A company may hire employees under an at-will arrangement. As noted by Business News Daily, without an employment contract, an at-will employer may lawfully fire you without providing a reason. A wrongful termination, however, violates federal labor laws that protect employees against discrimination, harassment or retaliation.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website notes that employers cannot fire you based on race, gender identity, ethnicity or age. The law also covers your religion, marital status or disability. None of these factors can influence an employer’s firing decision.
Wrongful termination after a complaint
Although you may work as an at-will employee, your employer may not lawfully terminate you in retaliation for reporting harassment or discrimination. Federal laws prohibit your coworkers, supervisors and managers from treating you unfairly based on your complaint of a hostile work environment.
When you experience harassment or discrimination, you have a right to file a complaint with your employer’s human resource department. If you find yourself without a job after addressing such an issue, your manager may have acted unlawfully. Your termination could reflect a retaliatory action.
At-will employment — the difference between lawful and unlawful termination
In circumstances involving a lawful at-will termination, you may not receive an advance warning. Your employer does not, for example, need to provide an explanation of how your job performance did not meet a company’s needs. If your employer, however, fired you based on your gender or ethnicity, your termination may have violated the law.
If your termination occurred after reporting harassment or discrimination at work, you may need to show that an at-will employer fired you in retaliation for your complaint. Regardless of whether the employment arrangement was at-will, you may file a legal action if your termination was either retaliatory or based on discrimination.